Most Upper Peninsula campers are well aware of the beauty and natural attractions of Van Riper State Park and its more rustic big brother, Craig Lake State Park. These parks offer just about anything campers are looking for, from modern, full hook-up sites that will accommodate RV's of any size to wilderness campsites nestled against a picturesque lake that are walk-in only.
One of the highlights of 1,044-acre Van Riper is its half-mile of sandy beach along Lake Michigamme, which draws swimmers all summer long.
Craig Lake State Park, at about 6,980 acres, is considered Michigan's most remote park, and its isolated nature is one of its biggest draws.
Working on a new children's playground area at Van Riper State Park recently are, from left, Carl Hosang, president of the Friends of Van Riper and Craig Lake State Parks, volunteer Bob Sibley, park employee Scott Slavin and volunteer David Bond. The friends of the parks group raised funds to buy the equipment. (Tucker Bond photo)
There have been some improvements at the park in recent years, as well, which has made them more comfortable and enjoyable for visitors.
While campers and day-users might notice these improvements, not everyone is aware of a group working to make the parks better places to visit.
This group is the friends of Van Riper and Craig Lake State parks, which was formed about three years ago. The most recent visible work done by the group should make youngsters who visit the park happy, especially those who like climbing, sliding and swinging in a playground.
Friends of the parks raised money to fund most of the project, according to Carl Hosang, president of the group. Fundraisers included everything from bake sales and collecting returnable cans to selling t-shirts and sweatshirts.
In addition, Hosang said three major donors - members of the Steelworkers union at the Empire Mine, West End Auto Value and volunteer campground host Les Ruohomaki - assisted group in raising the $25,000-plus needed for the project. The park also kicked in about $4,000 for wood chips to finish off the playground area, Hosang said.
The new equipment complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and is the beginning of what the group and park officials hope will be a bigger play area in future years.
While the younger visitors to Van Riper will certainly appreciate the new playground equipment, campers of all ages are apt to be using another feature of the park that the friends group was instrumental in getting installed - WIFI internet access.
Hosang said he wasn't sure if many campers would care to use WIFI while camping, but he said he was surprise how many people use it - including himself.
The WIFI project also played a role in the friends group getting a little wider recognition for their efforts. The group was presented with the 2012 Michigan Recreation and Parks Association Community Service Award. Group members received the award this spring in East Lansing.
Nominating the friends group for the award was park supervisor Doug Barry.
"In addition to their instrumental role in supporting these improvements (playground and WIFI), the friends group has also organized Yuletide in the Park, a new summer season family fun event for campers and park visitors," Barry said in a press release. "We wanted to recognize these efforts by nominating the friends group for the MRPA Community Service Award, and are thrilled they were chosen as this year's recipient."
As with most groups of this type, Hosang said the friends can always use more members, especially ones that don't mind pitching in on some park improvement projects. A membership costs $5 annually, and more information on joining can be obtained by calling the park at 339-4461.
In addition, the group's monthly meetings are held on the second Tuesday of the month and anyone interested is more than welcome to attend.
In a time when funds are tight for many recreation projects across the Michigan, it's certainly encouraging to see a group of citizens step up and become "friends" of a couple of the nicest parks in the state.
Editor's note: City Editor Dave Schneider can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 270. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.